The Spring Cleaning from ...

Friday, May 23, 2008

... Massachusetts

This weekend, Mrs. Van Horn's folks are visiting with us and helping out with some of the preparations for our moves to the Land of the Puritans.

As many of you know, she's getting ready to start her residency, which is the next stage of her medical career. The assignment to Boston was random within the set of medical schools that interviewed her. She starts on July 1, so we're moving her up there in mid-June. I move up there once I find a job up there and tie up some loose ends down here.

Perhaps the most striking thing about our move so far has been something I've alluded to before: the cost of living difference between Houston and Boston. As I noted earlier, "[If] the median cost of living in the United States [is] 100, it is 83 in Houston and 126 in Boston." That's somewhat abstract. Here's a concrete example: My wife is temporarily renting a studio apartment smaller than our bedroom for about $400 a month more than the three-bedroom house we presently call home. (Gulp!)

Part of this reflects location as she does need to be relatively close to her hospital, but not much. Our old commute was only ten to fifteen minutes in Houston. By car, not public transit, and without much walking.

Depending on what I end up doing, we could end up renting a two-bedroom apartment or buying a house a little farther out, but even if we swing the latter, we will still have roughly a year of not having room for our things. (I see the job hunt as taking months, and I don't want to buy anywhere until I've been there awhile.) We will have to get rid of some of our things and store others.

We're both feeling a little sentimental. But at the same time she's excited about finally moving forward with her medical career, I face massive uncertainty. I want to keep writing, and think I finally know how to move beyond blogging. But writing at that level takes time.

And that is the main thing I am worried about in this move. The higher cost of living is partially compensated by higher pay -- if I leave academia, which remains my current plan. But it is only partially compensated with higher pay, and moving away from the center of town could cost me in terms of (commuting) time. Beyond that, I don't really feel free to discuss my possible career moves any further here....

Instead, I'll move back to what originally got me to this post, the huge "spring cleaning" type of opportunity this represents. We're pack rats (and ended up with things from her family after Katrina hit), but even at our most sentimental, we both see this as a chance to drop down to a more sane level of material accumulation. After this weekend, we should have a much better idea of what we'll move, what we'll get rid of, and what we'll store.

If it were all up to me, we'd get down to a two-bedroom apartment level pretty easily, but some of the Katrina stuff has real significance to my wife. We have a baby grand piano among other things. I want to sell it, but I may have to settle for storage on that one. Whatever the outcome, as I see it, there will be that much less uncertainty after this weekend, and that will be my big payoff.

The randomness of the move, and learning about it when I did have left me flat-footed and facing a huge blob of uncertainty about many aspects of my future life. And these ramblings have helped me identify the uncertainty as what I really hate about this move.

The first step of knowing how to deal with a problem is always defining parameters. Sometimes, you find that you have a smaller problem than you thought, and sometimes you don't. But you always end up with a better idea of what to do. And that, gentle reader, is what I am really looking forward to this weekend.

And it will be my strategy beyond that. Thank you for your indulgence.


Even though it doesn't really fit in with the rest of what has turned out to be a rumination about uncertainty, I'll end with a top ten list, which I'd promised myself I'd do, and which is what I'd intended to do here in the first place.

Although uncertainty is the worst of the move, I regard Houston as my second home town, and I am really going to miss it. But I won't miss all of it! In the vein of easing myself out of here, I will compose a list of ten things -- in no particular order -- I will miss about Houston which I shall balance with things I either won't miss, or will get to enjoy instead in Boston.

I'll miss ...
  1. ... grilling in my back yard, but I won't miss mowing it.
  2. ... good Mexican food and especially Ninfa's, but I'll get to enjoy some really good seafood.
  3. ... the freedom of driving my own car most of the time, but I do like to walk, and (Wow!) perhaps Boston really is cheaper in a category!
  4. ... the flexibility of the schedule of my old job, but I will not miss its unpredictability.
  5. ... the independent sense of life of Texans and the dynamism of Houston, but I'll get to drink in lots of American history. (My thanks to the correspondent who reminded me of this.)
  6. ... the lack of pervasive influence of leftists in Texas, but I'll enjoy the fact that Boston offers more opportunities to participate in intellectual pursuits.
  7. ... my friends in Houston, but I'll get to make new ones in Boston and ... oh yeah, about half of my old friends in Houston have already moved up there!
  8. ... the fact that I basically get to skip winter every year, but I won't miss the high humidity at all.
  9. ... the subtropical springtime, which teems with life, but I'll enjoy seeing what the season known as "fall" that I keep hearing about looks like.
  10. ... the ability to travel cheaply and easily to visit relatives in Mississippi and Louisiana, but now, they all want to see Boston, so maybe I won't have to travel so much! And we're closer to some of my wife's relatives now.
I'm glad I did that. I feel better already.

-- CAV


Monica said...

Since moving to Colorado from upstate NY, I really miss Friday night fish frys. There is simply no comparison. You are definitely going to enjoy some good seafood in Boston! Man, do I miss decent fish! :)

But... humidity? It's quite humid in the northeast, actually. Sure, it's not Texas or Virginia, but you are still going to get your share of summer days that are mid-90s with oppressive humidity in July and August. But you will actually be able to breathe outside, unlike the south or the midwest... yay. Summer will be enjoyable.

Winter will be a b****, though, unless you're really into a ton of snow and subfreezing temps. Sorry, Gus.

Monica said...

Oh, I found this in an article, googling for "grill ordinance Boston":

"In Boston, the fire code prohibits charcoal grills on any porches and gas grills above the first floor, said Boston Fire spokesman Steve MacDonald."

I take that to mean you can have either in city limits, so long as you find a small patch of yard. (Which might be tough!)

Then again, we are not supposed to grill in mid-summer at ALL in CO, due to fire bans which usually go into effect in June. No one has slapped a fine on us yet, though. :)

Gus Van Horn said...

Well, the humidity will occupy less of the year, I think.

And thanks for the news regarding Boston's grilling ordinance.

It does make sense not to have open flames on porches, and even H-Town prohibits that, but at least it appears that the Puritans haven't completely outlawed grilling! (I'm semi-joking here.)

It seems that the closest I'll get to having a back yard any time soon will be to share one as part of a duplex type of rental. I'm still pondering whether such an arrangement would be tolerable to me. I'm very much the solitary type.

If worst comes to worst, perhaps going to a state park out of town -- we think we'll keep one of our cars -- and grilling will take care of my Jones a little bit.

Jim May said...

Well, the humidity will occupy less of the year, I think.

I hate to rain on that parade :) but the humidity in Boston will actually be *more* constant. While Houston gets swamped by the moisture coming off the Gulf of Mexico, it gets respites whenever a good dry blast comes off the interior.

Boston gets the same Gulf moisture -- admittedly mitigated by much of it dropping as rain in the South and Midwest -- but when the winds blow from the northwest in Boston, they are coming in from over the Great Lakes, rather than the Plains.

Speaking as a former resident of the little spit of land between Lakes Erie and Ontario, I can tell you that they definitely do their part to keep things nice and sticky :P

But don't worry, there is a time of year when the air will be much less humid -- it's called "winter" :P Then you get to enjoy the crispy dryness of heated indoor air, hungry for moisture. Chapstick is as big a seller in the Northeast as it is in places like Las Vegas, for a reason.

Now that I've filled you with a sense of dread, here's what I LOVE about the humidity: your nose will be happy as a pig in ship. The main thing I miss about the NorthEast are all the wonderful smells of spring, summer and fall (this last includes the heady smell of ripening grapes where I grew up). Even snow has a scent. The humidity sharpens my sense of smell *and* provides a wondrous palette of scents as a result.

How badly do I miss it? During my stay in Minneapolis one spring and summer, I slept near the sliding doors to the balcony of my apartment, just to have that amazing flood of spring scents wash over me. The Los Angeles basin has jasmine in the spring, but it only lasts for a month or so -- and it's better than Las Vegas in this respect, which is a desert in more ways than one -- but otherwise only has pockets of olfactory bliss, compared to the vast world of it that the Northeastern climate has.

Gus Van Horn said...

Well ... I guess I won't miss miss the humidity, then. Humph!

But at least I'm already used to it.

Galileo Blogs said...

Uh, regarding the grilling ordinance in Boston. Take this from a die-hard urban griller in your nearby metropolis, New York. I have grilled in this town illegally for 20 years, and loved every minute of it. I had a standing order that if a fire marshall came by, he automatically would get a free steak. During all that time, not one fireman came by to claim his free steak.

Now I grill legally on a terrace in an apartment building. I got a natural gas line put in and, believe it or not, a legal permit to grill in the Big Apple. I still love grilling, but some of the old thrill is gone, such as listening for sirens and the loud knock on the front door...

Hopefully, your Boston enforcement officers share the same priorities as their New York brethren. Enjoy your grilling!

Gus Van Horn said...

I hope so, too, that Boston's officials have the same blind eyes as those in the Big Apple and Houston -- I was a charcoal barbecue bandito back in my apartment days, I must now admit.

Anonymous said...

Good luck to you in your upcoming move. Although I've never moved more than 50-100 miles, I can indeed imagine how challenging the even larger one you have before you might be. But . . . Boston is a wonderful town in my view (I could LIVE in the North End -- so much history there), and depending on how far out you plan to look for a more permanent place (you might take a look at a fixer-upper in the South End), the T can be very convenient to getting around.

Galileo Blogs said...

Ah, charcoal versus gas or propane. Now that is a debate worth having...

Gus Van Horn said...


Oh, I've been to Boston a couple of times, and I lived in the Northeast for a short time back in my Navy days. I think I'll really like Boston once I find work and get used to things a bit, but the sticker shock. Yikes!


Heh! I'm so much on the charcoal side that when I find myself having to use gas, I will complain about having to grill "under adverse conditions"!

(You know, of course, that I had to talk smack!)


Kyle Haight said...

Ah, charcoal versus gas or propane. Now that is a debate worth having...

Either one will be a disaster in the short term, but propane will make it more difficult to grill properly in the long term because it has the capability to change what we mean by barbecue. (It isn't worth discussing gas since it will never get the nomination.)


Gus Van Horn said...


And you get extra points for making yourself sound like someone whose idea of barbecue is to dig a pit in the ground and toss in a whole goat.

Bruno said...

Grill? Come on! This is how it's done:


Gus Van Horn said...

Oh, man! I've got to go to a churrasqueira one day!

Monica said...

"I was a charcoal barbecue bandito back in my apartment days, I must now admit."

Glad to hear it. What fun is life if one can't shock the hell out of the people in the old folks' home across the street by producing 3 foot flames from a Weber on a shaky, rotting roof? (The fire trucks did come. But nothing bad happened besides having to extinguish my dinner. Oh well. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!)

Still grilling illegally, and proud of it! (We make sure we take proper precautions so as not to set the whole mountain on fire. Not to fear.) :)

Gus Van Horn said...

Such laws are written for those who need to be told what to do and how -- ipso facto, non-barbecuers.